New Kids on the Block Prove They Still Got It at RodeoHouston

The New Kids on the Block perform at NRG Stadium as part of the RodeoHouston lineup.
The New Kids on the Block perform at NRG Stadium as part of the RodeoHouston lineup. Photo by Reggie Mathalone
I’m on a first name basis with the New Kids on the Block.

I didn’t realize it until I sat in front of my laptop to write this review and found that I could not, for the life of me, bring myself to set the appropriate amount of journalistic distance by referring to the members by their last names.

But I suppose that’s how it goes for Blockheads everywhere, including the crowd – of yes, mostly women – who filled the seats of NRG Stadium to watch the New Kids on the Block play RodeoHouston for the first time ever. The rodeo announcer, after a completely unscientific call to the audience to make some noise, estimated the ratio of women to men in the audience to be about 3 to 1.

Of course, it was also Ladies’ Night, perfect for the Boston boy band who took the world by storm in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, comprised of Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Joey McIntyre, and brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight.

But, for the purposes of this review, it’s simply Donnie, Danny, Joey, Jon and Jordan.

Deal with it.

The last time the New Kids were in town, it was during their “Mixtape” tour last may. Because they tend to favor co-headlining tours these days, for that stop, they brought with them Rick Astley, En Vogue, and a Pepa-less Salt-N-Pepa. Alone for an hour-long set, the group managed to distill their usual setlist down to a real crowd-pleasing 15-ish songs.

The setlist was really a feel-good trip through their old catalog – songs you can “oh, oh, oh-oh-oh” to without thinking, and swing your legs to with muscle memory alone. Songs like “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” “Step by Step” and “Hangin’ Tough.” They are quintessential pop songs in their own right, each of which you could make a case for belonging on the Mount Rushmore of boy band classics, and the group has masterfully kept those songs from becoming stale with their charisma, by not taking themselves too seriously (as evidenced by a shout out to Gabe Kaplan in one song), and a heady mix of the old and the newer-old during concerts.
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The New Kids on the Block perform at RodeoHouston for the first time.
Photo by Reggie Mathalone
There were, of course, a handful of songs from their later catalog: RedOne’s remix of “Summertime,” their amiable comeback single off 2008’s The Block, as well as “Dirty Dancing,” arguably the best track off that album (and a great excuse to show an always welcome clip of Patrick Swayze delivering the classic “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” line from Dirty Dancing). And from the 2013 album 10, their current get-the-party-started jam “Block Party” to kick off the show and “Remix (I Like The),” a rock and soul-influenced banger that all the songs off that 2008 album wished they were.

But we all love the classics, and the group does their best when they merely freshen those classics up a little. So “Step by Step” includes a throwback dance break for Jordan as well as the “Push It” interlude the group added post-reunion. “Hangin’ Tough,” a song perfect for a stadium like NRG, gets a little bit better when it teases out that stadium-rock quality and the group does a brief bit of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Continuing on the nostalgia train, one thing the group did bring with them from last year’s “Mixtape” tour is their “’80s medley”– a-fun-enough-because-it’s-brief, karoake-like singalong for the audience (and I’m guessing a bit of a breather for the group) – featuring ‘80s hits like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

For the “rodeo” portion of the concert, the New Kids led the audience in a rousing rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” followed by an unexpected cover of Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy), which we can apparently thank John Rich for, with special guest Tio Choko adding a little dance flare.

Speaking of Texas, despite my typical aversion to the cowboy hat and yee-haw pandering we get when artists swing by the Lone Star State, in this one venue, and only for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I’ll allow it. But for a better example of pandering to the home crowd, see Donnie switching his cowboy hat for a Houston Astros hat.
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Donnie Wahlberg of the New Kids on the Block performs at RodeoHouston.
Photo by Reggie Mathalone
It’s worth noting that Donnie served as the concert’s unofficial MC, and he was as fan service-y as ever, especially during a playful rendition of 1988’s “Cover Girl” – shaking his ass, lifting his shirt, and “playing the field.” At the start of the song, he shouted, “Do we have any Texas cover girls in the house tonight?” and proceeded to flirt with every section of the crowd, even telling one area, “I’d be more than happy to carry on an affair with this side, girl.”

If you don’t know, it’s basically a rule: Donnie will get his moment in the spotlight with “Cover Girl”, as will Joey with “Please Don’t Go Girl” and Jordan with (on this eve) “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever),” a song he performed with so much feeling it felt like someone should have come running out with a cape to put over his shoulders James Brown-style a couple of times.

Before Joey could croon his way through the slow jam that started it all for the New Kids (remember, it was his teenage vocals that carried the song to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988), Donnie introduced him as “the cowboy” who’s been singing “Please Don’t Go Girl” for the last 35 years. Joey responded, “And I intend to sing it for another 35 years.”

And based on the energy of all the members and the fan reaction, particular when the group ran into the crowd for hugs, hi-fives and selfies during “Tonight,” he probably will be. Their performance showed that the New Kids on the Block train has not yet run its course. Not even close. I’m pretty sure I heard someone in the press box yell “take off your shirt” at least once.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.